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Nurse escapes fine after Covid-19 curfew breach as Crown offers no evidence

A nurse who breached the Covid-19 curfew escaped prosecution after she was able to prove she was asked to start her shift earlier than scheduled.

It is believed Sandrina Gifford is the first Magistrates’ Court defendant to escape a penalty for the offence.

Carrington Mahoney, the acting Director of Public Prosecutions, explained yesterday that Ms Gifford was exempt from the curfew because of her role as a nurse.

Mr Mahoney said: “This fact and the circumstances under which she was on the Road at the relevant time were not revealed until her appearance in court.

“Having regard to all the circumstances of this matter, therefore, no evidence was offered.”

Mr Mahoney added: “This does not represent a change in policy, but rather a decision made based on the specific facts of this particular case.”

A lawyer who has questioned the legality of curfew regulations welcomed the decision – but said that the law still needed to be amended to allow for a “reasonable excuse” defence.

Marc Daniels, who was not involved in Monday’s proceedings, added: “It appears that Ms. Gifford had a complete lawful defence, as set out in schedule one of the Public Health (Covid-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2020, which provides that registered health professionals, BHB staff, nursing home staff, et al, are exempted from curfew.

“Based on the personal circumstances advanced in court, as reported, in particular the letter that Ms. Gifford provided to the court in support of her contention, it appears sensible that the Crown withdrew the charge and took the position they did in the interests of justice.”

But Mr Daniels said: “I do not believe that there have been any further amendments to enable other citizens to advance reasonable excuses as a lawful defence outside of medical emergencies, unless they are otherwise exempt under the schedule.

“As it stands, only individuals that fall into one of the specified exemption categories, or persons that can mount a legitimate defence based on a ‘medical or other emergency’ can raise a defence.

“Unfortunately, if the circumstances do not amount to an emergency, even if they are otherwise reasonable, citizens will continue to be subjected to fines and/or imprisonment.”

The two were speaking after Ms Gifford told senior magistrate Juan Wolffe on Monday that she was staying at a friend’s house on the night of the breach and had not expected to be on duty at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital’s dialysis unit until noon the next day.

But she got a late telephone call from her supervisor who asked her to start her shift at 8.30am.

Ms Gifford said she felt she had to go home – and breached the curfew as a result.

Ms Gifford produced a letter from her supervisor in Magistrates’ Court on Monday to confirm her shift had been changed at short notice.

Tine Tucker, for the Crown, offered no evidence.

Mr Wolffe told Ms Gifford that she should be “extremely grateful” to Ms Tucker and the Department of Public Prosecutions and said the decision to drop the case was “monumental”.

He added there was a common perception that “the court system doesn’t understand people”.

But Mr Wolffe said: “What the Crown has done is understood your circumstances – take this as a learning experience.”

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